§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ * MR. PICKERSGILL (Bethnal Green, S.W.)
In rising to move the Second Reading of this Bill, it is desirable that I should state briefly for the information of the House, and especially for the information of hon. Members who do not represent the Metropolis, what the gross inequalities are of which we complain. I find from the latest Return, for the year ending March, 1888, that the poor rate in Bromley was 2s. 10d. in the £, for Bethnal Green 2s. 10d., and for Holborn 3s. On the other hands I find that in Westminter the poor rate was 1s. 7d. in the £, in St. George's, Hanover Square 1s. 8d., in Kensington 1327 1s. 10d., and in the City of London it was actually only 1s. It is right, however, to mention that the poor rate in the City does not include the police rate and the county rate, although the latter are included in the poor rate for the rest of the Metropolis. I add, therefore, a corresponding sum in order to make the comparison fair, and the result is that the poor rate for the City of London is 1s. 6d. in the £. This anomaly, gross as it is, is aggravated by the fact, that as a rule the poorest districts are the most heavily rated. That will clearly appear if the Western District of London is compared as a whole with the Eastern District The Western District comprises Kensington, Paddington, Chelsea, Fulham, St. George's, Hanover Square, and Westminster, and over that district there is an average poor rate of 1s. 10d. in the £. On the other hand, if we take the Eastern District—Shoreditch, Bethnal Green, Whitechapel, St. George's-in-the-East, Mile End, Stepney, and Poplar, it will be found that 2s. 5d. is the average rate. In this comparison no notice has been taken of a provision which was inserted in the Local Government Act of last Session to the effect that out of a Central Fund 4d. a day for every indoor pauper shall be paid to the several Boards of Guardians. The first result of that provision we know to our cost. It has been to raise the rate levied by the London County Council by 2½d. in the £. That fact appears from a statement published the other day by Lord Rosebery on behalf of the Council. That, I say, is the first result. What the net result of this provision will be in the several unions nobody knows; but I have estimated roughly what the effect will be in some cases. In the first place, what will the effect be upon the rich districts? I find that in Westminster and St. George's, Hanover Square, there will be a net loss of about 1d. in the £. Hence, while the rates are now in those two localities ls. 7d. and 1s. 8d. respectively, they will be eventually 1s. 8d. and 1s. 9d. respectively, so that the House will see that the effect of this provision in levelling up the burden in the lightly rated districts will be very slight indeed. In the poorer districts it is quite true that the 4d. grant will, in some cases, considerably relieve the rates, but its 1328 operation will be extremely unequal, and will, in fact, bring into existence new inequalities. For instance, if I compare Bromley with St. George's-in-the-East, both of which are in the eastern part of London, not very far apart, I find that in Bromley the net gain resulting from this provision will be 1½d. in the £, and will leave the rate at 2s. 8½d. In St. George's-in-the-East, of which the right hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Ritchie) knows something, the net gain will be as high as 9½d. in the £, thus leaving the rate at 1s. 5d., and it certainly appears to be somewhat extraordinary that while in one part of the East of London the rate should be 2s. 8½d. in the £, in another part of East London it should be as low as 1s. 5d. Having thus shown how inadequate are the fancy expedients which have been devised in order to readjust these glaring discrepancies, I hope that I have cleared the way for the favourable consideration of this Bill. There are those in London, and I think they are a growing body, who advocate the equalization of all Metropolitan rates. It is not necessary now to discuss the propriety of such a change, because I think the poor rate occupies a unique position, and deserves separate consideration. In the first place it must be obvious that in every great Metropolis the poor will be found to congregate in particular districts, and that which is a natural tendency has been aggravated in London by modern improvements. Take, for instance, the City of London. Within comparatively recent years the narrow streets of the City have been replaced by broad and commodious thoroughfares. The sites of these thoroughfares used to be covered by a swarming population. The City Authorities ruthlessly dispossessed them, with the result that they crowded into the parishes bordering on the City which were already overcrowded, and for some years have been helping to swell the poor rate of the district—already a burden almost too heavy to bear. I think that any fair-minded man will at once come to the conclusion that the City of London, with its 1s. 6d. of a poor rate, should not be permitted, in this way, to divest itself of its liabilities in regard to the poor. The poor of the Metropolis constitute a common interest to all the ratepayers of the Metropolis. 1329 That is the basis of the Bill, and it therefore proposes that the whole cost of poor relief should be defrayed by a rate levied equally over the whole of the Metropolitan area. That is the principle on which the Bill is based, and, I may remark, that it is not a new principle. It was introduced first, tentatively, in 1864 by the Homeless Poor Act; secondly, in 1867, on a large scale, by the establishment of the Metropolitan Common Poor Fund. Since then, at various times, it has been extended, and its operation now covers about 43 per cent of the entire cost of poor relief. The Common Fund is mow worked under a system which leaves the initiative and the management to the separate Boards of Guardians, subject to the supervision and the supreme control of the Local Government Board. Now that system and that machinery we adopt in making the whole cost of poor relief a charge common to the Metropolis, with this alteration only—we substitute for the Local Government Board a Central Authority which I will presently specify. We might have framed this Bill on different lines. We might have taken the London School Board as our model and have substituted for the Boards of Guardians mere Committees or delegates of the Central Authority. But we deliberately rejected that plan because we feared excessive centralization, which is always risky, and would be out of place and peculiarly liable to abuse in the administration of the Poor Law. We therefore, interfere as little as possible with the Boards of Guardians, but at the same time, as the expenditure of the Guardians will come out of a Common Fund provided by the whole of London, it seems essential that the Guardians should be, to some degree, placed under the control of a Central Authority representing the entire body of ratepayers and enjoying their confidence. Here, again, we had two courses open to us. We might have created an entirely new body in London; we might have created such a body on the lines of the Bill introduced in 1884 by the right hon. Member for Derby (Sir W. Harcourt). But it seemed to us that the multiplication of authorities in the Metropolis is to be deprecated. On the other hand, we found already in existence and as it were waiting for 1330 us an authority which exactly corresponded to our requirements—I refer to the London County Council. We, therefore, adopt the London County Council as the Central Authority who is to have the supreme control in the matter. There is an objection that may possibly be urged with some force, and therefore I think it right to allude to it. It may be said that the London County Council have work enough already before them. ["Hear, hear."] I hear the response to the remark, and I rather anticipated it from the other side of the House, but it seems to me that the London County Council, having the vigour and the confidence of youth, will not be unwilling to accept this charge, and, what is of much more importance, I am disposed to think the ratepayers of London will not refuse to give the trust to the London County Council. If, however, it should appear that the County Council, as at present constituted, have too much work to do the remedy is easy. You can increase the number of the new County Council; you can add for each constituency a fresh member. I venture to think that it will be far better to strengthen an existing authority when the authority is thoroughly representative than to multiply the bodies which at present exist in London. It is obviously desirable that some touch should be maintained between the County Council which will have the control, and the Guardians, which will have the initiative. It is proposed that this touch should be maintained in this way "that the representatives in the County Council of the area of each Metropolitan Union should be ex officio members of the Board of Guardians for that Union. On the other hand, we propose that the Magistrates, as such, should no longer have seats on the Boards of Guardians, and I rather think that provision will commend itself to the ratepayers of London. We propose, also, that the County Council should take over the powers of the Metropolitan Asylums Board, which is at present the Central London Authority for the Poor Law. I do unhesitatingly say that the Metropolitan Asylums Board has not the confidence generally of the ratepayers of London, and I do not think that it deserves to have their confidence. It appears, unfortunately, to 1331 have some kind of occult influence with the Local Government Board which ought to control it, and even at the present moment the Local Government Board are about to give their sanction to a proposal to grant a gratuity of £500 without a shadow of either legal or moral justification, to Dr. M'Kenna, whose office has become extinct. Now I claim the sympathy of the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Local Government Board, who has said that it will be expedient when a Central Authority is constituted that the powers of the Asylums Board should merge in the new body. With regard to indoor relief I think I shall probably meet with less opposition than in regard to outdoor relief, upon which I propose to say a word or two presently. As a matter of fact, the case with regard to indoor relief is comparatively simple. It is only necessary to extend the machinery already in operation under the Metropolitan Common Poor Fund to precisely analogous expenditure. At present the entire cost of the maintenance of the children in poor schools and of casuals in the casual wards is charged on the Common Fund. It is perfectly clear that we can in like manner, without any risk of extravagance, put upon the Common Fund the maintenance of the inmates of the workhouses and infirmaries and other Poor Law institutions. We make provision in this Bill for the better distribution of indoor poor over the Metropolis. At present there is a considerable waste of accommodation. In one Union you have a workhouse overcrowded, or the authorities are proceeding to build a new workhouse, whereas, in other parts of London the workhouses are not nearly filled. We propose, therefore, that the London County Council shall have powers to distribute the indoor poor, so as to make the existing accommodation fully available; and we propose also to give the Local Government Board power to assign certain workhouses for particular classes of the poor. We hope in this way to secure a more effective classification than at present exists. I feel that, apart from the mere question of adjusting the financial burden, it is extremely desirable that outdoor relief should be embraced within this Bill. What we mainly suffer from now is the absolute absence of 1332 agreement between the different Boards of Guardians as to the principles on which outdoor relief should be distributed. All will agree that it is a most Mischievous thing that, upon one side of an imaginary line in London, you should have Boards of Guardians giving relief with a lavish hand, whilst on the other side of the line relief is scarcely given at all, although the conditions may be precisely the same. That is the difficulty which particularly attracted the attention of the Committee upon Poor Law relief which sat last year. In their Report the Committee say:—There are wide divergences in the system of administration of outdoor relief pursued by various metropolitan Boards of Guardians, and admitting that the Guardians should, within certain limits, be able to adapt their policy to the particular circumstances of each district, it cannot be regarded as satisfactory that there should be in adjoining districts such a marked difference in practice as now sometimes exists.We endeavour by this Bill to meet that difficulty. It is not proposed to interfere with the general powers now possessed by the Local Government Board, but in the first place we provide that every Board of Guardians in the Metropolis shall be required to frame bye-laws prescribing the conditions upon which outdoor relief will be given within the Union, and we add that these bye-laws must receive the sanction of the London County Council, and that in the absence of agreement between the two bodies. the Local Government Board shall frame bye-laws. In the second place, we provide that each Board of Guardians shall furnish a weekly list of all persons receiving outdoor relief to the London County Council, and in the third place we give power to the London County Council to appoint officers for the purpose of securing the due execution of these bye-laws. In some very large urban unions, and particularly, I think, in Liverpool, where separate Committees of the Guardians distribute relief, this plan has been adopted in order to prevent extravagance in different districts. There have been appointed a number of officers who are called "surprise" visitors; they work from the centre, and their duty is to keep a check upon the district guardians and the district relieving officers. As regards the payment of such officers in London, there is 1333 a provision in the Bill by which a sum would be saved which, I should think, would about defray the expenditure. We provide that a poor person shall no longer be removable from one metropolitan parish to another under the law of settlement. The President of the Local Government Board granted me a return a little while ago which showed the average cost of these removals within the metropolitan area to be close upon £1,000 a year. That sum would be saved, and so we should have a surplus out of which these officers might be paid. I have now described how, as we hope, uniformity will be secured where it is desirable, whilst at the same time we think the provisions of the Bill are sufficiently elastic to adapt themselves to the varying conditions of different districts. In conclusion, I desire to make an appeal to the President of the Local Government Board as representing the Government. On the Second Reading of a Bill we assent to the principle of the Bill. If the right hon. Gentleman will support the Second Reading of the Bill the promoters will be quite willing that the measure should go to a Select Committee, where we shall be most anxious to meet the views of the Government as to its details as far as we reasonably can. I have only one word more to say. The mere adjustment of pecuniary burdens, important as that is, is not the sole object of this Bill. We have, if I may venture to say so, a higher aim£we hope to effect large social and moral reforms in the administration of the Poor Law. The present Administration, with all its faults, is as light to darkness compared with the Administration which existed prior to the establishment of the Metropolitan Common Poor Fund. It is not unreasonable to hope that the extension of that well-tried system will be proportionately beneficial to the whole population of this great Metropolis, and not least to those who have a paramount claim upon us—the deserving poor. I beg to move that the Bill be now read a second time.
Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."
§ * MR. BAUMANN (Peckham)
I beg to move as an Amendment that this Bill be read a second time this day six months, and in doing so I do not hesitate 1334 to characterize this measure as one of the most mischievous, one of the most dangerous, and in the sinister sense of the term the most socialistic of the many wild and extravagant schemes turned out apparently by the dozen by a small company of gentlemen, representing about one-sixth of the Metropolis, who have formed themselves into a syndicate for the moral, physical, and political reclamation of London at the expense of the rates. I rejoice exceedingly that by some sort of sudden and secret management between this glorious company of reformers and the Irish Members: this Bill has come to occupy the first place in the Paper today, although we discuss it at some disadvantage and with considerable inconvenience. I am not sorry at this manœuvring between Radical Members and the Irish Members, concealed from hon. Members on this side who represent five-sixths of the area affected, because this discussion, coming on the top of the Coal Dues debate of last week, will bring home to the ratepayers of London what they may expect from the ascendency of the Radical Party in London. The Bill proposes nothing else than the equalization of the total expenditure on Poor Law relief by the extension of the principle of the Metropolitan Common Fund from indoor relief to outdoor relief. I am strongly in favour of the equalization of poor rates with regard to indoor relief, because in respet to that form of relief we have the solid and inexpugnable barrier of the workhouse against extravagance and the demoralization of the poor by any system of indiscriminate assistance. But I maintain that the cost of indoor relief is now equalized as nearly as can be throughout the Metropolis by the 5d. subvention from the Metropolitan Common Poor Fund and the 4d. subvention from the County Council. To the Boards of Guardians there is paid, out of the Metropolitan Common Poor Fund, 5d. per head per diem, and there is also paid by the London County Council 4d. per head per diem, for purposes which—with the exception of the payment of school fees, which amounted to £1,800 a year—may be described as those of indoor relief. So there is a total subvention from central sources of 9d. per head per diem to the expenditure upon indoor paupers. It 1335 so happens that according to the Report of the Local Government Board for last year the average cost of maintaining indoor paupers is a fraction over 10d. per head per day. The memorandum prefixed to the Bill states that the contributions from the Metropolitan Common Poor Fund covers 43 per cent or the total cost of relief expenditure in London. If a contribution of 5d. covers 43 per cent, one of 4d. will cover 34 per cent, making altogether 77 per cent of the total cost of relief covered by these contributions from a central source.
§ * MR. PICKERSGILL
The hon. Member's conclusions would be perfect if his premises were sound, but they are not; 5d. a head does not anything like cover 43 per cent. There are other large subventions.
§ * MR. BAUMANN
That may be so, but I do not see that that affects my argument. It is a remarkable fact that the proportionate cost of outdoor relief in London for the last year was exactly 23 per cent. I submit, therefore, that the cost of indoor relief is, as nearly as may be, covered by contributions from a central source. I am sure the President of the Local Government Board will agree with me that we, have gone as far as we can and dare towards equalizing the cost of poor relief by subvention from a central source. The Bill proposes that the principle of subsidizing from a central fund should be extended to the cost of outdoor relief in London. That was not the intention of the legislative authors of the Metropolitan Common Poor Fund—it was not the object with which that fund was instituted, or with which the Government last Session handed over certain sources of income for the relief of local burdens. Can anything be more dangerous and demoralizing and more certain to lead to extravagance than to empower Guardians who are elected by districts of the area to give outdoor relief out of a common purse filled by contributions from the whole area? The rate may be equalized, but it will be by a process of levelling up and not by levelling down, and this can only have 1336 effect of increasing the poor rate all over the Metropolis. I submit that the prospect of the Boards of Guardians throwing the cost of outdoor relief upon a common purse to be replenished from the whole of London is a prospect that no prudent and reflective man can regard with other feelings than those of dismay and alarm and apprehension. The Boards of Guardians are to be controlled in their ravages upon the pockets, of the ratepayers by the London County Council. "Ay, there's the rub!" This Bill, after all, is not so much a Bill for subsidizing indoor relief as a Bill for the glorification of the County Council. By this Bill the Boards of Guardians and the Metropolitan Asylums Board are to be transferred from the control of the Local Government Board to the control of the London County Council. Last year it was decided that the powers, duties and liabilities of the Metropolitan Board of Works, plus the administrative functions of the Magistrates of Middlesex, Kent, and Surrey, were enough work for a new and inexperienced body to begin with. Is the agenda paper of the London County. Council not long enough as it is? Why it runs now to a tolerable sized pamphlet. Is the number of Committees in which the members of that body have to serve not large enough for their appetite for their duties? In the discussions upon the Local Government Bill last year, I predicted that, by the constitution of this new body, we were creating an imperium in imperio which would give us some trouble and provoke some criticism hereafter, and it appears, to me that my prophesy is on the high road to realization. To me, the hon. Member's proposal to remedy what he anticipates may be overburdening the County Council by doubling its members is a most extraordinary one. Now, I object to the transference of the Boards of Guardians and the Metropolitan Asylums Board to the control of the London County Council for two reasons. I object to it, in the first place, because I have a very strong opinion that the control of the administration of Poor Law relief should be- vested, in the ultimate resort not in a popularly elected body, but in a Government Department. The County Councillors are elected by a lower constituency than the Guardians, and therefore to 1337 set the Council to control the Boards of Guardians is a dangerous absurdity and a mischievous anomaly; it is the inversion of the proper order of things. I object to this transference, secondly because I consider that the London County Council has quite enough to do at present without adding to its duties. Of course the London County Council is a new body, and nobody would wish to criticize the crowings of infancy by the canons of sober age, but I should very much like to know what my right hon. Friend the President of the Local Government Board has to say as to the behaviour of his bantling. I should like to know what new rattle he propose, to give it to keep it quiet. Personally I protest most strongly against it being allowed to cut its teeth upon the machinery of Poor Law relief. Now there is a proposal in the Bill to throw the cost of registration of all voters—voters for the School Board, Board of Guardians, County Council, and Parliament—upon the poor rate which has already advanced, as we know so suddenly and by such large amounts. [An hon. MEMBER: "It is in the poor rate."] I wish very much the cost of the registration for Parliamentary purposes was in the poor rate ["It is."] Well, I do not know why Members and candidates are called upon to provide such large sums annually. I should very much like if the total cost of political registration could be thrown not upon the poor rate, but upon the National Exchequer, because I have always thought that the expenses of registration were unreasonably heavy. If the costs for Parliamentary registration are an old charge upon the poor rate. I have nothing to say on the point, but I am informed by the Local Government Office it is a new charge. There is also a proposal to throw on the poor rate the law expenses that may be undertaken under the assimilating influence of the County Council, and if they take to fighting private Bills before Committees upstairs, this will be no inconsiderable addition to the burdens on Metropolitan ratepayers.
§ MR. J. STUART
If I explain I may save the hon. Gentleman some trouble. No new charge is proposed to be placed on the poor rate, the only difference is that charges will be removed from the local to the general rate.
§ * MR. BAUMANN
I am much obliged to the hon. Gentleman for his disposition to assist me. No doubt the President of the Local Government Board will deal with this when he speaks later on. I understood it was a new charge. Now I have described the Bill as dangerous and mischievous, and in the bad sense of the term it is a socialistic Bill. It is only one out of a big batch which has emanated from the new syndicate opposite for the reclamation of London. Of course the object of hon. Gentlemen is perfectly legitimate and even laudable, but I hope I may be permitted to remind the House how small a section of the Metropolis these hon. Members represent. It is true, as Lord Beacons-field once remarked on a celebrated occasion, there is always present in London a small and active Jacobin element. It is also true that owing to the mistaken apathy of Conservatives they are too often allowed to walk over the course of parochial contests, but it is unquestionable that the apparent influence exercised by these extreme and clamorous politicans is ridiculously out of proportion, to their real, strength in the Metropolis. Even the Radicalism of London, deeply tinged as it is with religious dissent, is I believe quite untainted with this Jacobism. I do not think that hon. Members opposite, though of course they know their own business best, will win London by proposals which, while they can have no other effect than that of raising the rates, already at the endurable maximum, are repugnant to the common sense of all men, and have been universally and unreservedly condemned by every statesman who has been responsible for the administration of the Poor Law in this country.
Motion made, and Question proposed, to leave out "now" from the Question, and insert "this day six months."
* MR.J. BLUNDELLMAPLE(Camberwell, Dulwich)
I second the Motion for the rejection of the Bill. It contains most serious proposals, and if proper attention is given it, I do not think the House will agree to give it a Second Reading. It proposes to destroy the power of the Local Government Board so far as the administration of the Poor Law in 74 parishes within the Metropolitan area 1339 is concerned, besides those within the City proper, and to hand over authority to the London County Council. For myself, I view it as a Radical change that must needs inflict on the ratepayers of the Metropolis some additional expense in the future. I dispute the statement that there is the great difference in the poor rate alleged. It will be found that out of 74 parishes there are 35 where the poor rate is 2s. 2d. in the £; between 2s. 2d. and 2s. there are 20; and under 2s. there are 19. The general rate averages 2s. in the £, and I cannot see that on this ground there is any necessity to destroy all the existing machinery and remove all responsibility from different localities for dealing with their own poor. Though I agree that the indoor poor of London should be paid for by nearly equal rates, yet it is even more desirable that the poor should be looked after in different districts by Boards of Guardians, also charged with the responsibility of expenditure. Is there likely to be a proper sense of responsibility on the part of Guardians if they spend from a common Metropolitan purse? Will they feel their sense of responsibility to the ratepayers who elect them? There are upon Board of Guardians men of kindly liberal natures whose disposition is to deal with the poor with a lavish hand, but extravagance is checked by a sense of responsibility to the ratepayers whose money they administer. Take for instance the parish in which I happen to be a large ratepayer—St. Pancras. We have to deal with a large amount of poverty, and the poor rate is 2s. in the £. If you were to allow the parish to draw its expenditure from a Common Fund in the proportion it now draws for its Poor Law burden—namely, a seventeenth part, St. Pancras might create any new office, say, for instance, appoint a clerk at £170 a year, and the only extent to which their ratepayers would suffer would be £10 out of the £170 a year. It is of the utmost importance to adhere to the principle that those who control the expenditure should be responsible to those who pay the rates. The Bill throughout bristles with unworkable propositions. It would transfer to the County Council work that, unless that Council were doubled in numbers, it would be incompetent to carry out. I do not agree with my 1340 hon. Friend, whose Motion I am seconding, or the disputed point in regard to the registration of voters; but I do recognize the fact, looking at the number of duties enumerated, that the new departments that would be created would require such a staff, that the London County Council would have to form new Committees, each with its officers, and I do not think the House or the country at large is prepared to admit that the new Council has yet shown itself qualified for the discharge of the important work of administration contemplated in the Bill. Expenditure would inevitably rise. Where the hon. Member for Bethnal Green anticipates an outlay of £1,000 it strikes me very strongly the ratepayers of London would discover the experiment had cost them more than ten times that amount. I do not see how proper control of expenditure is to be exercised without heavy additional expenses. We taxpayers of London are already heavily taxed. The amount of property in London now rated for Poor Law purposes is over 30 millions, and the taxes now collected amount to about £7,500,000. It is proposed to hand over to the County Council the management of the Boards of Guardians, and, speaking generally, the vestries, and who knows what further control may be grasped at. I notice standing next on the orders of the day to this Bill, another Bill dealing with the dwellings of the working classes which emanates from the same active section of hon. Members who so energetically support this Bill before us, and which is drawn on even worse lines than the measure we are now considering. But it is a Bill that shows they are perfectly prepared, willing, and anxious to destroy all the existing institutions of this vast Metropolis in order to hand over control to a body they think likely to coincide with their views, and this body is the County Council which at the present time fails to represent, in my opinion, the views of the Metropolis. I see among the names on the back of this Bill those of some Members of the County Council, and I suppose they have impressed their fellow Members on the Council with a great idea of their own importance and influence as wise legislators, but I fail to see anything in this Bill to justify such a claim, nor do I admit that the County 1341 Council has now such confidence that we should entrust them with the power asked for. I trust a large majority of the House will vote with the majority of Metropolitan Members in putting a veto on the Bill.
§ * MR. SYDNEY BUXTON (Tower Hamlets, Poplar)
As one of the Members of that small syndicate to which the hon. Member for Peckham (Mr. Baumann) alluded, I may be allowed to say a few words in support of the Bill. I am sorry he should think this syndicate promoters such mischievous and dangerous legislators. He taunts us with not representing a majority of Metropolitan Members, but I am glad to think that though we do not as yet represent the majority of London constituencies, we are getting on towards it, and I am glad to see we have the support of the two new London Members who lately wrested their seats from the Conservative Party. I think before the hon. Member stigmatizes the Bill we have had the honour to introduce with harsh epithets, he should take the trouble to read it and understand it, which, so far as I can gather from his speech, he does not seem to have done. The hon. Member totally misunderstands the whole system under which the Common Metropolitan Poor Fund proposed to be extended under the Bill is at present administered, and the amounts received into and paid out of it, and the hon. Member for Dulwich (Mr. Maple) talked about our desire to supersede Boards of Guardians. We have no intention of the sort, and I think the hon. Gentleman must in his mind have confused our Bill with Bills that have been introduced from the other side. If he looks at our Bill he will find that we in no way interfere with the power of the Boards of Guardians, but instead of keeping them under the power of the Local Government Board, we propose to place them under the County Council. I should myself be in favour of thoroughly reforming the present Poor Law system in London, but except that we bring them into touch with the London County Council instead of the Local Government Boards the powers of the Guardians are not practically interfered with. The essence of the proposals we make is this, that we desire to see for Poor Law purposes throughout London one area, one assessment, greater uniformity 1342 of administration, and a uniform rate. Objects, all of which, with the exception of the question of assessment, can be secured by the extension of the Common Poor Fund. We have an entirely artificial division of districts for Poor Law purposes in London. We have 75 parishes divided from each other by imaginary lines, drawn, in many instances, without rhyme or reason, and yet because on one side of this line there happen to live more paupers than on the other side, ratepayers on the one side have to pay a larger rate than their neighbours on the other side. That seems to me a purely artificial state of things, not only absurd in itself, but grossly unjust, because, as my hon. Friend (Mr. Pickersgill) has pointed out, the heaviest poor rate falls on the poorest district, the richer district escaping with a lighter rate. It is no fault of the poorer parish that have a larger amount of poverty in their district, nor is it necessarily to the credit of the richer parish that they are relieved of poverty that may have existed in their midst. Day by day we find, unfortunately, the aggregation of poor in one quarter and of the wealthy in another quarter. This is a serious social evil, but irrespective of the social question, it is not right that by existing legislation we should aggravate such a state of things; yet we do so by taxing the poorer district more heavily than the rich. The evil is increased by the natural cause and effect of improvements in one part of the town, by improved means of locomotion, by increase of manufacturing industries, by the development of business, by various causes, some natural some artificial, some temporary some permanent, yet all leading to an inequality in which the poorer district bears the heavier burden and the richer district is to a large extent relieved of its share. The hon. Member for Peckham told us just now that there is very little inequality, because, according to the extraordinary calculation he made, the Common Poor Fund at this moment meets 77 per cent of the whole expenditure. Well, I think it is perfectly clear that the hon. Member has not examined the matter in the manner the House has a right to expect from a Member who moves the rejection of a Bill. If he will turn to the Local Government Report of last year, he will 1343 find that, out of the whole charge of £920,000 under the Metropolitan Common Law Fund, the whole amount derived from the 5d. capitation grant was £245,000, not much more than a quarter of the whole, and therefore, when he talks of the additional 4d. bringing the Common Poor Fund almost to the point of equality, it is clear that he speaks without book, and his statement was misleading the House. I wish to urge very strongly, not only that it is of great importance from a social point of view and, as a matter of justice, that there should be equality between the poor rates of London, but I urge it, and I believe the President of the Local Government Board would be inclined to urge it also from that point of view, that it is a great tax upon our manufacturing industries. Through natural causes our manufacturing industries are principally situated in the East and South of London, and it is just these parts of London where there is the greatest influx of poorer population, where paupers are more numerous and the rates therefore high. In these days of keen competition, London manufacturers have the greatest difficulty in keeping pace with their rivals in the Northern and Midland counties, and anything that adds to the burden they ought fairly to bear must proportionately handicap them in commercial competition and do a great deal of harm to the wealth and industry of London. The hon. Member for Westminster (Mr. Burdett Coutts) the other day expressed an opinion that London ought to be a residential, not a manufacturing town, but it would be impossible for the working classes of London to exist without these great manufactures, and it was on this account as much as in the interest of consumers that we a week ago opposed the continuance of the coal tax; and I am strongly of opinion that this inequality of rates does an enormous amount of harm to London as a whole. I am glad to think that our proposal, the principle of a Common Poor Fund, and equality is practically admitted by the existence of the Fund itself, and my hon. Friend (Mr. Baumann) admits it, though he did not, because of his miscalculation, perceive the effect of his own argument, and I think we might claim his assent to 1344 half of our proposal. It seems to me the whole point of the discussion really turns upon the question whether we can extend this issue of grants to outdoor as well as indoor relief. I do not believe there will be any real danger in extending the system to outdoor relief, of course under proper regulations. The question of indoor relief I need hardly argue, for, as I understand my hon. Friend, he practically admits that. But I, for one, should think it very inexpedient indeed to carry out the system to the full extent in indoor relief, and not extend it at all to the principle of outdoor relief. There is a good deal of false sentiment talked on the question of indoor and outdoor relief, and under proper regulations there need not be the dangers some people have anticipated. I believe myself that under our present system outdoor relief is also needed, and certainly I would not, by excluding it from our proposal, give the enormous bribe, as it would be, to Guardians to diminish as far as they possibly could outdoor relief, and rely almost exclusively on indoor relief. I think it came out pretty clearly when we were discussing the Local Government Act that in the general opinion of the House it was a mistake to emphasize too strongly on the opinions of the Guardians, by means of their pockets, the advantages of indoor as compared with outdoor relief, and I believe that in the present state of public opinion, and if we obtain, as I believe we can, proper checks over the Guardians, there would be very little likelihood of any abuse of outdoor relief, and that it would be given only to a just and healthy extent. I would draw the attention of the hon. Member for Peckham to a return issued last year on the Motion of one of the hon. Members for Birmingham, from which it appears that in the whole of London where outdoor relief is given to something like 50,000 persons of both sexes and all ages only 803 adult able. bodied men received relief who were not incapacitated by sickness, accident, or infirmity, and that I think shows that if carefully carried out there would be no abuse of the system, and under this Bill the checks would be stringent enough. The hon. Member for Dulwich (Mr. Maple) said we wished to supersede the Guardians, but he is quite mistaken, all 1345 we propose is to secure greater uniformity in administration than there has been in the past. To this end the County Council would draw up certain bye-laws for the guidance of Guardians in their work of poor relief. The members of the Council for the particular district would be ex officio members of the Board of Guardians in that district. We should not get rid of the responsibility of the Guardians, but we should introduce a system of uniformity that would be of great advantage to Guardians. The hon. Member for Peckham says, further duties should not be thrown upon the County Council, but I am strongly of opinion that now we have got for the first time in London a really representative administrating body we should make the greatest possible use of it. I think the hon. Member for Bethnal Green would hardly have dared to make his present proposal if the whole of this extra control of the equalization carried to its full extent, was to be under the Local Government Board. It is only because we have this representative body to control this and other local matters together, that we think the time has come when we may without fear of abuse endeavour to bring about greater equality in the matter of the poor rate. Though the County Council is at this moment over full of work—new brooms sweep clean, and they have a great many matters to attend to—still I believe that my hon. Friend below the Gangway and other Members of the County Council will be willing to accept these additional duties, and will feel that to carry out the wishes of the ratepayers who have elected them, they should have some control over this matter of poor relief. There is one advantage they would have if this matter were under their control. They are directly interested both in economy and good administration, while, the Local Government Board necessarily looks at these things from a purely departmental point of view. It is nothing to them if the rates of London go up, and not of paramount importance if the Poor Law is not quite properly administered. I would endorse what fell from the hon. Gentleman the member for Bethnal Green in proposing the Bill. We do not say that the Measure is perfect in every detail, far from it, but we ask the Government to look at it with an open 1346 mind, and to allow it to be referred to a Select Committee, so that the matter may be thrashed out. We look to the President of the Local Government Board for sympathy, seeing how deeply the question affects the interests of London. I, as representing a poor constituency, may, perhaps, be somewhat prejudiced in regard to this matter, and I have no doubt that the hon. Member for Peckham representing, as he does, a rich constituency, is interested somewhat in the other direction. All we desire is that the matter should receive full and fair consideration, and should be thoroughly thrashed out by a competent Committee. We believe we can prove our case, and that what we are asking is a matter of justice and expediency.
THE MARQUESS OF CARMARTHEN (Lambeth, Brixton)
As a ratepayer of London and as a representative of a certain number of ratepayers, I must enter a most emphatic protest against the Bill. The hon. Gentleman who has just sat down accused my hon. Friend on this side of not knowing anything about the Bill, and of not understanding it. Well, I think my hon. Friend may fairly answer that little opportunity has been given to any of us to make any acquaintance with the measure. If I were to characterize the Bill by a name I should call it a "County Council Glorification Bill." The principle of the Bill according to the Memorandum which accompanies it, is very simple; it is to have all poor relief given from one common fund for the whole of the metropolis. The ostensible aim of the Bill is to avoid centralization as much as possible. But the Bill, it seems to me, really goes in for centralization pure and simple. It is argued that there will be a groat safeguard in the County Council. But, though I do not wish to say anything offensive of the Council, I cannot help remarking that they will find ample work to occupy their time if they confine themselves to the duties at present imposed upon them. The question of the Poor Law was sufficiently discussed last year in the Committee on, the Local Government Bill. The hon. Member for Bethnal Green says the Council has all the vigour and confidence of youth. Well, we have now had three months experience of the Council, and its principal achievement seems to have been the raising of the rates 1347 Besides that, it has voted £2,000 a year to a Member of this House—and I have not a word to say against it, for no doubt the labourer is worthy of his hire—but there are some ratepayers who think their money might have been expended to greater advantage. The Deceased Wife's Sister Bill, which it petitioned in favour of, is another of the objects in which the Council has shown its vigour. Then it attempted to organize the outdoor fête of last Saturday, than which it is impossible to imagine a more dismal or dire fiasco. It is because I think the Council has already as much to do as it can get thorough without looking after the interests of the ratepayers, and because I have no confidence in the suggested safeguard, that I shall vote against the Bill.
§ MR. STANSFELD (Halifax)
The hon. Member for Peckham (Mr. Baumann) is rather fond of strong and striking expressions, and, as I understood the hon. Member, one of his objections to the Bill is that it proposes to put the London County Council above the Guardians, and that the Council is now elected by the same suffrage as the Guardians. But I would remind the hon. Member that the House of Commons is chosen by the same suffrage as the County Council, and that before many years are over the franchise by which Boards of Guardians are elected will be altered by Parliament. The hon. Member also said that he regards this measure as a most mischievous and, in a bad sense, socialistic one. It he had said socialistic only, I should have made no objection, for there is high authority for the proposition that nowadays we are all socialists, but he said socialists in a bad sense. The hon. Member then went on to say that he was entirely in favour of the equalization of the Metropolitan poor rate as far as indoor relief was concerned. But he practically contended that we have gone as far as we ought to go in the measure of 1867. The hon. Member's prophesy is that if the rate is equalized it can only be done by levelling up, and at the cost of good administration. That is an intelligible argument, in answer to which I will endeavour to point out that it is impossible to carry out the principle of equalization without some sacrifice in favour of a good and strict administration of outdoor relief. The subject, how- 1348 ever, I admit, is one worthy of discussion. The hon. Member for Bethnal Green has frankly said that he is willing to refer the Bill to a Select Committee, when the application of the principle involved can be carefully worked out. The noble Lord who has just spoken said that the County Council has already plenty to do. No doubt, that is so, but I have always found that it is precisely those who have plenty to do who find time to do something more. What they want is equalization of the rates, and if it is too soon to hand these powers over to the County Council, the supervision may be left in the mean time to the Local Government Board. I must say there is one statement of the hon. Member with which I am somewhat in accord. I do not think that the equalization of the whole London poor rate was implied by the legislation of 1867. As I read it, the view of that day was that it was advisable to make such a concession to the Metropolis, and that the richer part of the population should contribute something at least to the relief of the excessive strain on the poor districts, so far as it could be done without damage to the soundness of administration of the Poor Law. To my mind, therefore, this is an extension of that principle; and I approve of its being carried further. I would remind the hon. Member that many things have happened since 1867—one of the most recent, the creation of the County Council of London. What have you decreed by that legislative act? You have decreed the unity of London. After the legislation of last year, two things are morally certain. One, that London will itself demand this equalization, and demand it in all probability through the representatives that it sends to the County Council. Secondly, this House will not long resist that demand. You must admit the consequences of a principle in legislation. You have admitted the principle of the unity of London, and you may depend upon it that before long we shall have to go further, and discover a method by which we could consistently with sound administration place the burden equally upon the rich and poor districts, instead of leaving it to press as it does now most heavily upon those who have the greatest inability to pay. I have no hesitation in expressing 1349 my concurrence in the views of my hon. Friends, and, therefore, I shall vote for the Second Reading in the hope that the Bill will be referred to a Select Committee, where the matter will be thrashed out. It is a subject deserving and requiring discussion. The rate ought to be equalized consistently with precautions which will secure good and economical administration. As to the methods, I should feel bound to make some reservations. I do not commit myself to everyone of those methods at the present moment, but I commit myself to this proposition, that I would endeavour to find a way of reconciling the equalization of the poor rate, which I hold to be inevitable, with the necessities of economical administration. As to the methods, it would be perfectly out of the question to throw upon the County Council, either directly or indirectly, the whole responsibility of the management of the poor rate of the Metropolis. If it were to do so, it would necessarily play into the hands of the permanent officials. It is quite impossible for a body like the London County Council to undertake the ordinary duties of Boards of Guardians for the whole of this Metropolis. You must keep them, therefore—and the Bill proposes to keep them—with the Boards of Guardians. You cannot get men to do public work without you allow them some latitude of judgment, and the framers of the Bill have had that in their mind, because they propose that each Board of Guardians. shall present a Budget to the County Council, and that it shall not be entitled to a share of the metropolitan rate unless it justifies its expenditure in the Budget it produces. I do not know whether the right hon. Gentleman is prepared to go so far, but to my mind it appears inevitable. I think that sooner rather than later we shall be compelled to accept the equalization of the metropolitan poor rate, and, if that be so, I think it cannot be denied that it is highly desirable that the Select Committee should endeavour to ascertain, if possible, how to realize that proportion consistently with the necessities of good administration. You might grant to the County Council certain fixed annual sums to be transmitted to the Boards of Guardians, the sums transmitted to be based upon their expenditure and with due regard to the economy of their 1350 administration. The County Council might grant the sum on the Budget. Estimate of the Board of Guardians, and according to their own view of what the expenditure had been in the past, and that it ought not to be lavishly or unnecessarily increased. On that basis, the Guardians would have an interest in keeping within the amount estimated; and it would enable them to spend in one direction and effect a saving in another, as might be thought advisable. I should be very desirous that there should be some elasticity in the matter—some freedom and discretion, some judgment left to the Guardians of each Union, because, firstly, we want the best men to do the work, and secondly, because the work-would he better done if, within certain limits, a feeling of responsibility were inspired. These are the reasons why I certainly shall vote for the Second Reading of the Bill, in the hope that it may be sent to a Select Committee; and I trust the right hon. Gentleman who is responsible for the action of the Government in this matter will say that there is something not unreasonable in those views.
§ * MR. B. HOARE (Hampstead)
Mr. Speaker, I wish to speak with the utmost possible respect of the London County Council, but I am bound to say that it suggests to me the idea of a young giant out for a lark, and if there is any unfortunate head in the way of the club he flourishes, so much the worse for the head. This Bill proposes to do away with several institutions. The Metropolitan Asylums Board is to have its head smashed and to be well jumped upon and extinguished. That Board has done and is doing a great deal of good work, and is doing it economically as I well know in one instance of my own personal knowledge. The unfortunate ratepayers are to be injured in their tenderest part—the pocket. That is always their fate, and it is one to which they are bound for the next three years, and possibly thereafter. New burdens are to be imposed on the ratepayers of London, that will not be placed upon other parts of the country. The Boards of Guardians are to be treated with scant courtesy. They are to be kindly preserved, hut preserved with very limited authority. They are to be placed entirely under the control of the County Council. The 1351 workhouses are to be taken out of their control, and may be used by the County Council for particular classes of paupers. While Guardians from any part of the Metropolis will have the right to visit and inspect. The local members of the County Council are to be ex-officio members of the Boards of Guardians, and they will be very formidable and powerful members of those Boards. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Halifax said the time must come when these Boards would be placed on a popular franchise. It strikes me the right hon. Gentleman has forgotten the difference between Boards of Guardians and other elective bodies. Boards of Guardians are elected for one purpose, the relief of the poor. What would be the effect of placing them under a body elected on a popular franchise? It would be this—that that large class which does not contribute any appreciable amount to the rates, but which does receive, almost exclusively, relief from the rates, would have the control of the fund contributed by those who pay largely and who do not receive anything from the rates. This seems to me entirely to upset all the principles of popular representation and of taxation, according to representation. The people who receive the money in actual doles and house room and food, will find it to their interest that the relief should be freely and generously given. It is not to the interest of the ratepaying community that the relief should be largely given, but that there should be a proper limit, under a judicious system of safeguards, to the administration both of outdoor and indoor relief; but under the system now proposed, by which the control now exercised by the Guardians over the poors rate will be practically given to the popularly-elected Council, you will be making it the direct interest of the poor man who may come on the rates, to advocate extravagance in their distribution. This seems to me to be a strong argument against the principle of the Bill. The question of raising a poor rate from the richer parishes, partly in aid of the poorer ones, has already been conceded, and the principle is actually in force now, and, for my part, I see no reason why that principle should not be extended; but I certainly do see strong reasons why this Bill should not be 1352 accepted by the House. It seems to me that the House would do well and act wisely in rejecting this measure, and in leaving the County Council to settle a little more into its regular work before imposing on it the largely extended functions imposed by the Bill.
§ * MR. HOWELL (Bethnal Green)
Mr. Speaker, I think it is a good thing that we have had this debate on the Bill before the House, if it be only that it has enabled us to get the opinions of hon. Gentlemen opposite with regard to the County Council, called into existence by the right hon. Gentleman: the President of the Local Government Board (Mr. Ritchie). The London County Council will now know how to value those opinions, and I feel that what has been said by the hon. Member for Peckham (Mr. Baumann) will possibly have a very large effect at the next General Election as regards the position of the London Members of this House. At the same time, I am bound to say I feel exceedingly sorry that what is certainly one of the greatest public institutions that have been created of late years by means of the popular vote, should have been thus sneered at within a couple of months of its actual creation by those who created it. That body has only been two months at work. It took over a large amount of labour from other bodies, it had placed on its shoulders a great amount of responsibility, and it has scarcely had time to look round and see the great things that have to be done from a purely administrative point of view; but because it has not, been able to settle everything in accordance with the views of hon. Members opposite, they get up in that House and sneer at it. As far as I am concerned, I am so well satisfied with the work done by the County Council, that I have no objection to the extension of its powers, even to the extent demanded by the Bill now before the House. I think that already the County Council have shown that they comprehend the enormous work which devolves upon them, and I feel tolerably certain that they possess abilities and qualifications which will enable them satisfactorily to carry out the duties they are called upon to perform. Of course they may not be up to the high standard of the hon. Mem- 1353 ber for Peckham, neither with regard to general ability nor in point of common sense; yet I think it will be found that they will give general satisfaction to the constituencies in the Metropolis who have recently elected them. Those of us whose names are on the back of the Bill are not disposed to contend for all the details of the measure. What we more particularly want is that the main principle of the Bill—the equalization of the poors rate—should be carried by this House, and that the measure should then be remitted to a Select Committee. I have often been struck in this House by the kind of parade of generosity and sympathy which has been made by hon. Gentlemen opposite towards the poor of London. Well, here is an opportunity for them to show that sympathy in a practical way; but the moment the opportunity comes we see how shallow and hollow all those professions of sympathy really are. Now, what is it that is absolutely asked by this Bill? It is simply, so far as the rating to the pound for the support of the poor of London is concerned, that this great Metropolis—made one by the action of the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Local Government Board, in the Act of last year—shall be treated in the same manner as Leeds and Liverpool, Manchester and Birmingham, and other great centres of industry, and that the poors rate shall be equalized over the entire area. Suppose the Government consent to the Second Reading of this very small measure to-day—and a small measure I contend it is "what will happen? Hon. Members opposite laugh, but I will presently tell them a fact they seem to have forgotten. Supposing the Government consent to the rating in the pound being equalized all over London, will that have equalized the rating over the Metropolis? By no means, for we find that not only are the poorer localities rated higher in the pound than the richer ones, but they are more highly assessed in proportion to the value of the houses rated. Every poor locality in London is assessed up to the hilt, whereas in the richer localities the occupiers not only pay less in the pound, but the assessment is proportionately less. As far as I am concerned, I only wish we were discussing a broader measure of equalization, which would not only make the rates equal over the 1354 whole of London, but would appoint some central authority which could equalize the assessments also. However, the measure now before the House is restricted to the question of the poors rate. Allusion has already been made to the fact that already great areas in this Metropolis have been altered, and the poor inhabitant driven out. Hon. Members may remember that a good many years ago there were large areas within the City of London itself that were cleared of the poor population, and no accommodation was found for them either within the area or near the area so cleared; although some time afterwards a small block of buildings was erected by the City of London Corporation in which a comparatively few families were placed; but beyond this no provision was made for housing the great mass of the poor, who were driven out of those rookeries—for rookeries they deserved to be called—and who found their way into still poorer districts, the inhabitants of which were compelled to maintain those who were forced into their midst by the clearances thus effected. And beyond this, the improvement schemes carried out in London by the Metropolitan Board of Works have had the effect of driving the poor from localities where the rating was comparatively light, into other localities where the rating was very high; and hence it is that year after year the poor have had a larger burden to bear, and are becoming less and less able to bear it. I do not see in the House the hon. Member who represents the constituency in which I live, or I should have liked to have heard him speak in the name of Hammersmith. My hon. Friend near me has spoken of Bethnal Green, but that is not the only locality where the poor are heavily taxed. Surely, Sir, it is not asking too much when we ask that people should be taxed or rated according to their means—for that is all which is asked by this Bill—and that the wealthier localities which have the benefit of all these metropolitan improvements should, at any rate, be called upon to contribute according to their ratable value and assessment. Some constituencies are very much overrated as compared with others, and the hon. Member appears to be afraid that this equalization scheme would have the effect of transferring some of the burdens 1355 from the poorer to the richer districts. But supposing this levelling up did take place, even then it would be a mere matter of justice, and we believe that the result would he that the enormous rate in some of the poorer districts would be lessened. I do not propose now to go into the difficult question of outdoor and indoor relief, but I should like to say, in passing, that I think that with a wise and judicious system of management the outdoor relief system might be extended so that a man temporarily in difficulties should not be compelled to break up his home and go into the workhouse. Tens of thousands of instances occur in which a little temporary relief would enable a person to tide over his difficulties, arising perhaps from a bad winter, sickness, or a slackness of trade, and surely he should not be compelled under such circumstances to break up his home, and thereby become stamped as a pauper. I am sorry that the Local Government Board and the local authorities appear to be trying to stamp out the system of outdoor relief. We know that enormous sacrifices are made by poor people to keep a roof over their heads and to save their homes from being broken up. In past times the administration of the Poor Law was such that the poor dreaded going into the workhouse, not merely out of self-respect, but on account of the hardships they there suffered Men have often preferred a prison to the workhouse, because there they may be better treated. But recent times and under popular control there has been a great and beneficial change in this respect. We believe in popular control and in the principle of popular representation, and hence we support this Bill. I hope that the President of the Local Government Board will take this matter up, and as we supported him last Session when he was dealing with Local Government generally so we will support him in this. We believe that the time is rapidly arriving when the whole question of the rating of the Metropolis will have to be dealt with, and I should be glad to see the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Local Government Board put his shoulder to the wheel, take the matter up and complete the work he commenced last year.
§ * MR. C. J. DARLING (Deptford)
We have been told by the hon. Member 1356 for Poplar that the vital principle of this Bill is the taking away of certain powers from the Local Government Board and the bestowing of them upon the County Council. If that is so I shall feel compelled to vote against the Bill. But, on the other hand, the right hon. Gentleman, the Member for Halifax, who, perhaps, speaks with greater authority, represented that the main principle of the Bill was the equalization of the poor rate throughout the Metropolis. Now I am in favour of that principle and, limiting my support of the Bill to that principle, I shall vote for the Second Reading. I shall vote for the principle of the Bill as I gather it from the memorandum attached to the measure, for I agree it is the common interest of the ratepayers of the Metropolis that the cost of poor relief should be defrayed by a rate levied equally over the entire Metropolis. This debate will enable hon. Members on this side of the House to show how unjust are the attacks which have been levelled against them by hon. Members opposite, and it will also prove us quite as fully to sympathize with, the poor as do hon. Members themselves. Now I have for a long time been in favour of an equal rate all over the Metropolis for the maintenance of the poor of London for I do think it is unfair that persons, by living in a certain district, by betaking themselves to the West End, should escape more lightly than others from the burden of supporting the poor of London. I trust that the course I am about to take will show hon. Members opposite that there are those who sit on the Conservative benches who are quite as anxious as others in any part of the House to act fairly by the people generally. But with regard to that part of the Bill which proposes to give certain powers to the London County Council, I reserve to myself perfect liberty to vote against it. It is said that this body though young is vigorous, but youth has other characteristics besides vigour—youth sometimes does not know how to take care of its money. It is fair to admit that the London County Council has shown its appreciation of one of the duties which the Poor Law enforces—namely, the duty of the child to support its parent—by performing an act of filial piety to one who is regarded 1357 as its putative father. But a body whose only two notorious acts so far consisted of this and of a triumph of organization in regard to a Fire Brigade parade cannot be said to have yet earned public confidence, and I will be no party to increasing its powers. On the other hand, inasmuch as they have not yet had time to "turn round," as the hon. Member for Bethnal Green (Mr. Howell) says, I do not think we ought to put on them all the new duties which are proposed to be imposed on them by this Bill. I think we should be acting no friendly part to them in doing so, and I will be no party to such a course. Still, I think there ought to be, and I hope there soon will be, an equalization of the poor rates of this Metropolis, and I shall therefore vote for this Bill, although, as a matter of fact, I approve of only one of its clauses, that is Clause 4.
§ * MR. BARTLEY (Islington, N.)
No doubt a good deal may be said for the equalization of rates, considered from a popular platform, and it is of course a very easy thing for hon. Members to say it is a great shame for a rich district in the West End to pay lower rates than a poor district in the East End. I, for one, do oppose and object to any system cinder which the poorer districts are required to pay more than the richer districts. But those who have taken the trouble to study the facts of the case find that it by no means follows from the present system that the poorer parishes pay more than the wealthier ones. A Return which has been presented to Parliament this very year shows that some of the very poor districts of London are really rated below the average amount of the rate for the poor. The average amount of the rates in London is about 4s. 11d. in the£
§ * MR. BARTLEY
The general rate, which includes the poor rate and other rates, is about 4s. 11d. When you are talking of the rates in the different districts, you must deal with the whole thing as it stands. Now, if we look at the various parishes, we find that some of the very poor districts are rated below 4s. 11d. Shoreditch and Camberwell are both rated at 4s. 11d. But there 1358 are a great number of parishes which are poor in every sense of the word, and which are rated below this amount. St. Pancras, which no one can say is a rich parish, comes within this category, and the Ratcliffe Division of Limehouse is rated at 4s. 10d., while Islington, my own constituency, one of the poorest parts of London, is rated at 4s. 10d., The fact is, that the difference in the amount of the rates does not entirely depend on the question of poverty or riches, and it is therefore necessary to consider what other questions creep in in connection with the subject. When we talk of equalizing the rates throughout the whole of London we are likely to place ourselves in a considerable amount of difficulty by largely diminishing the efficiency with which the work of administration is at present carried on. I attribute to a great extent the differences in the rates to the different ways in which the localities look after their districts. I do not want to say too much about my own district, but I am sure there is no parish in London which is so well looked after in this matter as the parish of Islington. Though it has so large a number of poor, the rates are nearly as low as those of the parish of St. George's, Hanover Square. If you put an end to the present system, and substitute for it one under which the whole of the cost of poor relief is drawn from a Common Fund, the tendency will be that everybody, instead of trying to do the work as economically as possible, will be anxious to get as much as they can out of the Common Fund, and I am sure the consequence will be an enormous increase in the rates all round. All those who have served on Board of Guardians must have noticed in what a different manner the question of increasing a local rate is treated from a question of drawing money from the Imperial Exchequer. In the one case the greatest pains are taken to cut down expenses as much as possible, whilst in the other the only notion seems to be to obtain as much as can be got from the Imperial Exchequer. The same tendency would be observed if we had a Common Fund for the whole of London, and I therefore object entirely to the proposal. I should like to say a word with reference to the principle of the Bill. It is very easy for my hon. 1359 Friend behind me to say he will vote for the measure because of a sentence in the Memorandum which appears on the face of the Bill, which Memorandum would never become law, even if the Bill did. The measure not only deals with the equalization of the poor rate, but it goes into the question of indoor and outdoor relief. I do not think this is the time to discuss the question raised by the hon. Member opposite (Mr. Pickersgill) as to the way in which relief is administered, but I may say that I believe distinctly that the system which has grown up during the last twenty years has done infinitely more benefit to the poor than to the ratepayers, and has conduced far more to the well-being of the people than to the reduction of the rates. Section 12 of this Bill gives power to the London County Council to distribute the indoor poor over the whole Metropolis. Well, Sir, those of us who have sat on Boards of Guardians know perfectly well that if we were to give such a fifth wheel to the coach, the whole machinery of Poor Law administration would break down. You must either let the Guardians administer the Poor Law pure and simple or hand it over to some other body. You cannot have two bodies both doing it at the same time. I do not understand how, by any possible means, a system can work by which the question of the indoor poor is to be regulated partly by the Guardians and partly by an independent body by which the Guardians are to be superintended. The County Council would, under the Bill, really override the whole work of the Guardians. such a system could not possibly be carried out. Is it reasonable that we should do away with the functions of the Guardians, and hand over the delicate machinery for administering outdoor relief to an independent body which has no special knowledge of the subject or machinery for acquiring that knowledge? One of the provisions of the Bill is that the County Council shall appoint and remunerate such officers as they think fit for carrying out their proposed new powers of looking after the Guardians and seeing that they obey their directions. I think that an amount of political clap-trap has been put into this Bill. It is certainly political clap-trap to go about London and 1360 advocate that the poor should be relieved of some of their rates. This is not the way of doing it. Some of the poorer districts would certainly resent a re-arrangement of this kind, as they pay less at present than they would under the re-arrangement. If we are going to re-arrange the rates, let us do so in a proper manner, and do not let us interfere recklessly with our present system of relief. During the last 20 years the work of the Boards of Guardians in London has been immensely improved. Some of the Guardians have been the pioneers of improvement in regard to the whole machinery of outdoor and indoor relief to the immense benefit of the poor themselves, and I think the House ought to hesitate before consenting to take the work out of their hands.
§ MR. J. ROWLANDS
The hon. Member for North Islington (Mr. Bartley), who charges us on this side of the House with political clap-trap, was very careful not to deal with the subject which is before the House, except in the few remarks he made about the machinery of the Bill. If he had studied the Return of the assessment of the Metropolis to the poor rate, he would have found that the question of a general rate is a distinctly different thing from the question of what is paid by each individual parish in connection with the Poor Law rate. We are not advocating today the equalization of the general rates of the Metropolis, and therefore the remarks of the hon. Member were really beside the question. Not one of the Gentlemen who have spoken on the opposite side of the House has really attempted to grapple with the question. It has been pointed out that various Governments have done their best to deal with London as a whole, and that 43 per cent of the cost of the poor now comes out of the Common Poor Fund. The hon. Member for Peckham (Mr. Baumann) tried to make out that 73 percent was already paid out of that fund, but that is not the case. If it were the case, I do not see why he should so strongly object to the system being carried a little further. To put it mildly, we have 50 per cent paid out of the Common Fund. Now, we say, here is an opportunity of placing the whole of London on a common footing in 1361 this respect, and because we advocate the carrying of the present system to its logical conclusion, we are accused of being guilty of political clap-trap. If this Bill passed, I admit that the Metropolitan Asylums Board would be swept out of existence, but that is a body which is elected and constituted on the very worst principles. We do not object to transferring the powers of the Metropolitan Asylums Board to a directly representative body like the London County Council. During the passing of the clauses of the Local Government Act, the President of the Local Government Board did not at all discountenance the idea that before long it would be necessary to hand over the function of the Metropolitan Asylums Board to the County Council. It seems to me that hon. Members opposite are only annoyed with one thing with regard to the County Council, and that is, its political complexion is not the same as that of most of the London representatives of this House. We on this side maintain that the people of London under a popular suffrage have a right to elect what Local Authorities they like, and even if the views of the London Council were not in accordance with our own, we should still assert that that right remained inherent in the people of London, and we should respect and not sneer at the body they elect. The hon. Member for North Islington referred to the rates in some parishes with large suburban population. Let him, however, take the parishes just adjacent to the City of London, and he will find that in St. Andrew's, Holborn, the poor rate is 3s. in the £, in St. Luke's it is 2s. 10d, and in Clerkenwell it is 2s. 9d. or 2s. 10d. The reason why it is so high is that the poor population residing in the City has been driven over the borders. Whilst we are paying our 3s. in the £, the people in the City, whose poor we are supporting, are paying 1s., or, putting all extras on, about 1s. 6d. in the £. We do not say that the machinery proposed in this Bill is necessarily perfect. If the House is prepared to concede our principle that the equalization of the poor rates over the whole of the Metropolis is just, it can perhaps devise some better machinery for carrying it out. Unfortunately, the only thing hon. Gentlemen opposite have done is to 1362 sneer at the principle as socialistic. The hon. Member for Peckham said he hoped the people would see what we were at. We hope the people will see what we are at. We are endeavouring to grapple with some of the social problems of this great Metropolis, and we rather like the sneers of hon. Members opposite than otherwise. I do not think they will find their sneers very satisfactory to the suffering ratepayers outside, who will rather honour those who attempt to grapple with the great and trying difficulties which surround the question. Hon. Members opposite have not attempted to point out any better machinery. I do not see the force of the point put by the hon. Member for Peckham. Is it not a fact that in some of the very poorest parishes the cost of outdoor relief is brought down lower than in parishes which are in a much better social condition? Therefore, the argument that you will have this indiscriminate giving away of money entirely fails, in view of what is being done in the poor parishes in the East End of London. If we desired to institute a Common Fund for the first time, you might have a strong case against us; but when it has already been adopted, and when the whole tendency of the action of successive Governments has been in that direction, why should we stand still now and say we will go no further? I am fully convinced of one thing. This question has to be grappled with, and it will be settled on the basis we indicate. Whether the machinery we recommend is a machinery that will eventually be adopted remains to be seen. We think it would be the best machinery, although we are not wedded to it. But we are determined of one thing—that whatever the machinery may be, what we shall struggle for, is that it shall be controlled by a representative body, directly elected by the people. If we lose in the Division this afternoon, we are confident that the question will grow, and that before many years it will be satisfactorily settled.
§ MR. COWLEY LAMBERT (Islington, E.)
The hon. Gentleman has made reference to certain parishes in the Metropolis where the poor rate is high. He might have mentioned other parishes—such as Christchurch, White-chapel, where the poor rate is 2s. 2d. in 1363 the £; the Minories, where it is 2s. 2d.; St. Giles's, where it is 2s. ld.; St. Mary's, Whitechapel, where it is 2s.; and St. Mary's, Islington—one Division of which I have the honour to represent—where it is 1s. 8d. Under such circumstances, hon. Members may realize the objection we have to this scheme for the equalization of the rates. It is evident that if this equalization takes place, it will make a difference of 6d. in the £ to all the inhabitants of one of the poorest parishes in the North of London. The hon. Gentleman has said that while we are anxious that the machinery proposed by the Bill should not take the place of the Boards of Guardians, we have not suggested any other machinery. We have not done so for the simple reason that we do not think any other machinery is necessary. We are content that the Poor Law should be administered as at present. Both the hon. Member for Finsbury and the hon. Member for Bethnal Green have delivered eulogiums upon the London County Council, and they have both reproached us with sneering at that body. We have not sneered at that body. We are only anxious that—precocious child as it is—it should learn to walk before it learns to run. We think that the speech of the hon. Member for Bethnal Green is about the strongest argument against the Bill that could possibly be advanced. The hon. Gentleman dwelt upon the heavy responsibility which the London County Council have undertaken and upon the amount of work they have to do, and he added that if they had enough to do they were full of energy and youth—he did not say recklessness, as he might have done—and if the number was not sufficient it might be doubled, a statement which I think will be received with great astonishment by the ratepayers throughout the Metropolis. This body, which is so full of energy and youth, in its recklessness wants to have, further, the Poor Law administration of no less than seventy-four parishes in London. I certainly think this experiment is a very dangerous one to try. I object to the Bill on three grounds, all of them fair and practical. I object to it in the first place because it has been sprung upon us in a very unfair manner. I object to 1364 in the second place because it is impracticable and unworkable, and in the third place I object to it because its adoption would raise the rates in my constituency—a constituency consisting of the lower, middle, and working classes—at least 6d. in the£.
§ * MR. RADCLIFFE COOKE (Newington)
I beg, in the first place, to make an earnest protest against the way in which legislation is attempted by those who have been termed a syndicate. Hon. Members introduced the Bill on February 28, said nothing about it till two days before the Second Reading, printed and circulated it the day before yesterday, and then, by some arrangement with political friends, secured for it a place which nobody ever thought it would occupy. The supporters of the Bill then, in order to obtain the adhesion of the Members on this side, said it contained a principle, and if the House accepted the principle they did not care what became of the machinery. The hon. Member for Finsbury (Mr. J. Rowlands) has, however, let the cat out of the bag. In truth, the real object of the Bill is to put powers, which this House refused last year to give them, into the hands of the London County Council, and it has little or nothing to do with the equalization of rating or the benefitting of the poor. The only benefit the poor of London will get from the Bill will be that paupers will be sent from a workhouse near their people to one, seven, or eight miles away if it happen to be empty. It has been admitted by hon. Gentlemen opposite that the time of the London County Council, is fully occupied, and it was suggested by the hon. Member for Bethnal Green that possibly the Council might be strengthened by an addition to its numbers—a good proposal, if possible, but it is impossible to obtain an addition of equal merit to the present Members, for none but themselves could be their parallel. It may be that on the principle that in the multitude of counsellors there is wisdom, the County Council should take power to add to their number as soon as possible. A few days ago I supported a Bill brought in by the hon. Member for Bethnal Green on the ground that the County Council had expressed a view in favour of it, and that we ought not, on the first occasion when it 1365 was expressed, to refuse to pay attention to the wish of that representative body; it will not, therefore, be supposed that I wish to deprecate the importance of the Council, or that I think that ultimately increased powers may not be given to it. We felt all through the passing of the Local Government Act that the powers we were conferring on the Council were but a commencement, and I believe in my heart that ultimately these powers will have to be greatly extended. But the Council has only had a three months' existence, and is already full of work. That is admitted by the hon. Member for North-East Bethnal Green (Mr. Howell) who says that on the ground of the various duties it has to perform its little eccentricities ought to be pardoned, but I say we shall be running counter to the intention expressed when we passed the Local Government Act if we transfer the administration of the Poor Law from the Guardians to the London County Council, for this is what is really proposed. In the first place, all the duties and control which the Poor Law Board have in connection with workhouses and the Common Fund are to be transferred to the London County Council; they take the power first, and then they take the money. Not only do the Council get the Common Fund, but they secure to themselves all the visible property of the Boards of Guardians and local bodies, and the Bill will leave to Boards of Guardians the power to manage workhouses, dispensaries, and district schools, and so on, in places that are the property of somebody else. It is not to be supposed that those who own the property and possess the money by which the property is kept up will have the real control over the Guardians themselves. It is to get control over the Guardians that the Bill is brought forward; it has nothing whatever to do with the equalization of rates. My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Deptford will be one of the most innocent-minded men in his profession if he allows himself to be persuaded to go into the Lobby with hon. Gentlemen opposite.
§ * SIR W. PLOWDEN (Wolverhampton, W )
The emotional eloquence of the hon. Gentleman has somewhat led us away from a subject that requires 1366 calm consideration. The hon. Gentleman tells us that the statement in the Memorandum is altogether opposed to what is put forward in the Bill; but that I utterly deny, and if the hon. Gentleman has read the 4th Clause I cannot understand how he should overlook the fact that the wording of the Memorandum is almost identical with that clause. But I only detain the House for a few moments to refer to remarks from both the hon. Members for Islington. They seem to think, and I can quite understand why they should feel distrust of a measure they fear will bring about such a result, that the rates in Islington will be raised to a point they are not reaching at the present moment. They drew a comparison between the rates in St. George's and St. Giles', where it is 2s. in the £, and St. Mary's, Islington, where it is 1s. 8d., and the hon. Members seemed to refer to the lower rate in Islington as commending itself to notice as showing the economical way in which the authorities worked the Poor Law system in that district. But if we take a careful survey of all the circumstances we shall find that there really is less economy in St. Mary's than in St. George's, and St. Giles'. In the latter the proportion of paupers per thousand of population is 37, in St. Mary's it is 22, and the ratable value of St. Mary's is four times that of St. Giles' and St. George's. So that taking into account the difference in the proportion of poverty, and the difference in ratable value, St. Giles' and St. George's have done the better economical work, and such instances as these support the claim for an equalization of rates throughout London.
§ * MR. LAFONE (Southwark, Bermondsey)
The Bill deals with a subject in which I take great interest, and I will not give a silent vote on this occasion. When the Local Government Act was passed last Session the control of poor relief was expressly reserved from County Councils, because it was considered that those Councils would 1367 have quite enough on their bands until they got into harness. The Bill we are now asked to read a second time is an attempt by a side wind to abrogate the deliberate decision of last Session and confer upon the London County Council powers now exercised by the Local Government Board. As one who for many years has been Chairman of a Board of Guardians for a large metropolitan union, I may claim to speak with some authority, and I say there is the greatest objection to ex officio members of Boards of Guardians such as the Bill proposes. Ex officio members we now have are not looked on with favour by the elected Guardians, and still less would they be regarded with favour as coming from the County Council, because from the divided nature of their duties they would be unable to carry out efficient control. There is generally a weekly or fortnightly meeting of the whole Board of Guardians, but the practical work of the Guardians is not done at those meetings; the talking is done there, but the efficient work is done in Committees. But these ex officio Guardians would not be able to attend the meetings of the Relief Committees where the work is done and where extravagance may develop. If a Common Fund were established and supported by a general poor rate over the whole of London, the effect would be that in the poorer districts where the Guardians are elected from the classes of shopkeepers and small property holders there would be a less rigid supervision over the funds committed to their administration. I know from experience that until those who are largely rated for the maintenance of their own poor, take upon themselves the charge of becoming Guardians there is a disposition towards lavish expenditure. And so it will be in the future if you confer the powers proposed in this Bill on the London County Council, and leave such a 1368 small remnant of authority to Guardians that it will not be worth the while of men of leisure and position becoming members of Boards of Guardians. Another question the Bill raises is the transfer of paupers from one district to another. By such a transfer the Guardians would lose all control over the paupers under their charge. The new Board would know nothing of the circumstances and surroundings, and would be quite unable to say if any particular person remained a proper recipient of relief. Moreover, the transfer would be a hardship both to the paupers and their friends. In the regulations for our own workhouses, we have stated times for visitors—once a week in the workhouse, twice a week in the infirmary; but if you transfer paupers to a distant part of the Metropolis, you may make it almost impossible for their friends to visit them. This is comparatively a small point; but my objection goes to the whole principle of the Bill; it is out of time and out of place. We want to deal with a question of this kind largely—with one measure for the whole country. It is too large a subject to be dealt with in a small Bill introduced by a private Member. I am heartily in favour of uniform rating over the whole Metropolitan area, but I can in no sense accept the impractical proposals in this Bill. Something towards equalization is accomplished by the grant from the Common Fund. To this fund poor districts, where there are large numbers of paupers in receipt of indoor relief, pay considerable amounts; but, on the other hand, they receive back again some thousands a year more than they pay in, and in this way the rates are reduced considerably. It should not be forgotten also that as rates are reduced there is a tendency for rents to rise, so that equalization of rates would not necessarily be advantageous to householders. But, as I have said, the question is too large for a Bill of this character. I am sure the Government have not lost sight of the question. I heartily approve of the general principle of equalization; but it is far too large a subject for the County Council, before it has tried its powers and shown its capabilities, to take in hand, and I see no corresponding advantage in making the transfer of power from the Local Government Board. In my judgment, the 1369 Bill is in a crude, unworkable form, and I must vote against it.
§ * SIR W. GUYER HUNTER (Hackney, Central)
If I thought the Bill was intended to equalize rates, and would have that result, I should be one,of the first to support it, and in doing that I should be carrying out the behests of my constituents. But I know full well that under the specious guise of equalizing the poor rate, the Bill is nothing more or less than an attempt by the London County Council to grasp at power. It tends simply to centralize all authority in the Council, and before long we should have Boards of Guardians and even the Local Government Board, perhaps, swept away. I think the County Council might wait a few months longer and first gain the confidence of the people of the Metropolis before attempting such a large measure of reform as this. I also wish to add my protest against the way in which this Bill has been introduced. Until late last evening I had not the shadow of a suspicion that this Bill was to be brought forward to-day. Had hon. Members below the Gangway explained their intention of bringing it on a few days previously, possibly a little consultation with us might have led to modifications in the Bill in many particulars, and they might have gained assent to the principle of equalization of the rate in the Metropolis. I trust now the Bill will be thrown out as it deserves to be, for it is nothing more or less than a grasp at power by the London County Council.
§ MR. STEPHENS (Middlesex, Hornsey)
I am opposed to the Bill because it seems to me it strikes at the principle, so important in local matters to maintain, that local taxation should accompany local administration. With the powers of local taxation you should have local knowledge. If you allow Guardians to draw from a Common Fund instead of restricting them, as now they are restricted, to the fund that is 1370 provided by their own locality, and in relation to which they have full knowledge, then all security for wise administration will disappear. The area within which Guardians now act is sufficiently limited for them to have that detailed acquaintance with the condition of the poor which is absolutely essential for sound administration. The Bill raises a fallacious idea of security where no real security would exist. A control must be useless if it is an ignorant control, and surely it can easily be shown that in matters of poor relief the control of the London County Council must be an ignorant control. The knowledge that can make poor relief really effectual without abuse is only to be attained by those who devote themselves to the work with a familiarity with the surrounding local circumstances; and having regard to the enormous duties that fall upon the London County Council, I think it would be imprudent to allow them to gratify their ambition to gain the power of controlling the Poor Law system. It would really come to this. The County Council would know nothing whatever about poor relief, and so would have to do what our ancestors were always averse to doing; they would provide an army of officials to manage the business, and in that way you would have official management without responsibility. These officials would have the knowledge without the responsibility, and you would have the County Council an unwieldy body, having control which would not be a real control, because they would not have any real knowledge. To draw an illustration from my own parish, I may say that we have a most efficient system of supervision over outdoor relief by means of a voluntary committee, and by means of 16 visitors we have been able to almost extinguish this form of pauperism by applying to each case exactly that evidence best fitted to deal with it. These parishioners have gone into the work with zeal and knowledge of the circumstances in relation to each case, and have been able largely to relieve the parish from the disgrace of pauperism; but these advantages will disappear if a large unwieldy body like the Council exercise control, 1371 relying as they must upon their irresponsible officia1s.
§ * MR. GAINSFORD BRUCE (Finsbury, Holborn)
I regret that the House should be engaged in the discussion of the Second Reading of a measure which has been in the hands of Members little more than 24 hours. So far as I can understand its provisions, it seems to me it is not a Bill the principle of which is the equalization of the Metropolitan poor rate, but a Bill for the extension of the authority of the London County Council. When we speak of equalization of the poor rate, and extension of the rating area, we are probably all agreed that the extension should be as far as is consistent with ecomomical administration. Now, to many of us on this side of the House, and perhaps to some on the other side, it is somewhat surprising to be told that the control of the London County Council is likely to secure economy. The London County Council has not earned a reputation for economy, and we cannot believe that the Council is the body likely to promote that economy of administration which is all-important in matters of this kind. Nor can I approve the proposed method of administration. It is not quite correct to say that the Bill places Boards of Guardians under the County Council, it places the County Council between the Guardians and the Local Government Board, because first there is an appeal from the Guardians to the London County Council, and then as the framers of the Bill cannot trust the Council there is an appeal from the Council to the Local Government Board. I venture to assert there could hardly be a more clumsy method of administration than this triple system of divided authority. We all agree, I suppose, with what was said by the right hon. Gentleman on the First Opposition Bench that you cannot get men to voluntarily take upon themselves responsible duties unless you trust their judgment and discretion, 1372 and there, I think, you have a strong argument against the Bill. It will not be possible to get good men to serve as Guardians if they are to be the mere puppets of the County Council. There is nothing we have more reason to be proud of than the willingness of persons of leisure and position to serve on Boards of Guardians in London. It would be a retrograde step to place one administrative representative body under the control of another representative body with an appeal to the Local Government Board, and it is perfectly certain that such a plan would not tend to economy in administration, and must seriously affect the duties and responsibilities of Boards of Guardians. The hon. Member for Finsbury (Mr. Rowlands) would like the people of London to know who were the Members of this House, who had sympathy with the poor, and I cheered his statement. We should like the people to know, and we who oppose this Bill oppose it because we believe it would render the condition of the poor of London unendurable. Is there a matter with reference to Poor Law relief which requires more judgment than the question of outdoor relief? According to this Bill the exercise of beneficent discretion is to be abolished, and bye laws lay down hard and fast rules as to the way in which outdoor relief is to be administered. When we come to the question of indoor relief, we find in the Bill a provision that a poor man may, by the, rescript of the County Council, be removed from one end of London to another, and practically shut out from all intercourse with his friends. One other point is not unimportant. At present we have the administration of the Poor Law carried out by persons who give their gratuitous services in the interest of the poor. Under the Bill it is to be administered by paid officia1s. It is proposed to take the work out of the hands of men and women who live among the poor, and sympathize with the poor, and understand their wants, and to hand it over to the hard and inflexible management of persons who will derive their ideas of duty from the Central Department by which their salaries will be paid. If this is the only kind of sympathy which hon. Gentlemen 1373 opposite have to offer to the poor, they are miserable comforters.
* THE PRESIDENT OF THE LOCAL GOVERNMENT BOARD (Mr. RITCHIE, Tower Hamlets, St. George's)
I am very glad my right hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton (Mr. H. Fowler) is in the House, because wish to emphasize a criticism which has already proceeded from this side of the House, and which I am sure will meet with his approval. Here is a Bill affecting enormous interests, and also affecting a number of public bodies, such as Boards of Guardians, the London County Council, and the Metropolitan Asylums Board, and dealing with matters of supreme interest to a classes in the Metropolis, and yet, although it was ordered to be printed on the 22nd of February, it was only distributed to Members two days ago. It is, in my opinion, monstrous that the Members of this House, and especially the Members for London, should be called upon at 48 hours' notice to consider a Bill of this importance, nor do I think that the objection to that course is lessened by the fact that the Bill has suddenly assumed the first place on the Notice Paper only a day before it comes on for discussion. Now, the object of this Bill, as appears from its title, is one which appeals very largely to the sympathies of those who represent the poorer districts of London. The equalisation of the poor rate is an object which many Governments have recognized as being desirable so long as it an be carried out upon sound and proper lines, and the action of many Governments has been in that direction. The right hon. Member for Halifax (Mr. Stansfeld) has made a strong argument of the fact that London has now become one, and has said that as we have now provided for the unity of London, it is a natural consequence that we should provide also unity of assessment so far 1374 as poor rate and management are concerned. Another hon. Gentleman has, I think, stated that we might have adopted the plan of the right hon. Member for Derby (Sir W. Har- court) who proposed to govern s London by means of one Central Council and by Committees formed from it. As to what the hon. Member for Halifax has said, the fact of a town being one entity for all municipal purposes does not justify his argument that the Poor Law administration should also be one for the whole of London. Directly the contrary is now the case in nearly every one of the great towns of the kingdom, we have in Manchester, Liverpool, Birmingham, and, in fact, in nearly all the other large towns, one Council managing municipal affairs, and in many cases two and three unions, with rates varying as much as 1s. in the £. The difficulty of dealing with questions of this kind has been recognized in connection with a very large area and a very large population, and, so far as the right hon. Member for Derby and his proposals are concerned, that right hon. Gentleman never attempted to treat the question of poor relief as one to be controlled by one body in London. As far as my recollection goes, the right hon. Gentleman proposed, while placing all municipal London under one body, to leave the Poor Law administration as it was, so that neither the fact of London being one for municipal purposes, nor the fact of the right hon. Member for Derby having dealt with the question of the unity of London, justifies the argument that if we deal as a whole with the one, we ought to deal as a whole with the other. As I have said, so far as the general principle is concerned, if it could be done with safety and on proper lines, equalization of poor rate is a thing of which we shall all approve. But here I must notice a remark made by the hon. Member for North-East Bethnal Green (Mr. Howell) who complained not only that there was not one rate throughout London for matters of this kind, but also of the different modes of assessment in London, and alleged that not only did the poor suffer because of the differential high rate they had to bear, but that they were unfairly treated with reference to the assess- 1375 ment for the rate, as compared with the more wealthy quarters of the Metropolis. The hon. Member showed what to me is a surprising ignorance of the present condition of things as to assessment in London. He seemed to be unaware of the fact that in 1869 the Metropolitan Valuation Act was passed, and that by that Act the surveyor of taxes was brought in with the express view of seeing that the assessment throughout the whole of London was on one basis. And not only that, but the deductions that are allowable are prescribed in the Act, and, further, any one parish can appeal against the assessment of any other parish if it chooses to do so, and all the valuations are brought to one centre. And so satisfied are most people with the mode of assessment adopted in London, that I have frequently heard it argued that in dealing with valuation for the whole country the same system ought to be applied as that which now applies to London, and that to secure uniformity of assessment the Metropolis Valuation Act should be extended, bringing in the surveyor of taxes, whose duty it would be to see that the assessments are uniform. I mention this in order that it may not be supposed that I assent to the extraordinary proposition of the hon. Member that the poorer parishes are unfairly dealt with in reference to assessment. I now come to the question of how it is proposed to effect the equalization of poor rate in London. Although hon. Gentlemen express themselves quite willing to reconsider any questions of detail or of management in the Bill, if we assent to its principle, I am led to make the remark that that is just the crux and difficulty of the whole business. And I say that, so far as I am concerned, I see no plan or machinery that will get rid of the fundamental difficulty which confronts every reformer who approaches that problem. It is proposed by this Bill to equalize the poor rate by absolutely sweeping away the whole independent action of Boards of Guardians. It is true you do not transfer those powers from the Boards of Guardians to the County Council, but you deprive them of all independent initiative and of all the inducements that now exist for good and economical administration. 1376 bound to say that I think the point which was touched on by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Halifax, and which has been alluded to by many of my Friends that, by a system of this kind, you will not only not get better men to serve on Boards of Guardians, but the worst men, is one of the strongest arguments against the proposal of this Bill. The object of amending the law should be to get better and stronger men in the local bodies than we have at present, but I want to know what man of almost any self-respect would consent to be a member of a Board of Guardians under such provisions as are contained in this Bill. The right hon. Member for Halifax stated objections to the proposal in the Bill on that particular point, and how did the right hon. Gentleman propose to meet the difficulty the existence of which he acknowledged? "Oh," he said, "on the same lines and by the same safeguards as those of the Bill. For instance, that Boards of Guardians should be allowed to frame a budget." I must say that is not a very tremendous power to place in their hands, looking to the fact that after framing the budget they are to present it to the County Council, and to abide by its decision as to the wants of the particular neighbourhoods and unions for which the Guardians are elected. That is to be one of the inducements for men to come on to the Boards of Guardians—that they shall be permitted to frame a budget. But that brings me to another difficulty in connection with the Bill. The Guardians of a district may frame a budget to meet the local wants, and the London County Council may revise and reduce it so that the Guardians cannot manage the work they have undertaken. No men of respectability would consent to act as Guardians under such conditions. Then the County Council is to prescribe the dietaries of inmates, to approve of by-laws regulating out-door relief, and to appoint officers; and this is called by the hon. Member for Poplar placing the Guardians under the County Council instead of the Local Government Board. I should like to know what would be the views of Boards of Guardians as to this being a mere transfer of powers from a central body to an elected body. I am not aware that the Local Govern- 1377 went Board possesses any such powers as it is proposed to give to the Council, and I shall be very sorry indeed if it did. The Guardians are also to furnish the Council with lists of the persons in receipt of out-door relief and the amounts received. The delicate and difficult work of Guardians would be intolerable under such conditions. Yet these conditions are essential if the poor rate is to be equalized, and it is therefore useless to speak of these matters as mere details to be revised by a Select Committee. If you are going to allow Boards of Guardians to dip into the common purse for out-door relief, it is essential that you should have strict control and supervision. The difficulty is inherent in the proposal itself, and no amount of modifications would enable you to secure this control in the proper quarter. The Bill would decrease the efficiency of the Boards of Guardians, and prevent men you have confidence in coming forward to take places on them. We have gone a long way in the direction—the safe direction—of making the indoor poor a common charge over London, there you do not require the same restrictions as in the case of the out door relief. In my opinion, the proposal as to the outdoor relief would have two results. It would have the effect of largely increasing the rates. The districts that now pay least would be brought up to the level of those that pay most, and those which are most highly rated would probably find their rates raised. But a much more serious question is what would happen to the poor themselves? That is much more serious than the question of £ s. d. They would be demoralized by greater laxity in the giving of relief, and the increase of the rates would press heavily upon the poorer ratepayers and drag some of them down into pauperism. Outdoor relief is often attended with cruelty. In a large number of cases I am afraid that inadequacy of outdoor relief is a cause of starvation. It is often given in a haphazard and perfunctory way; people are dismissed with 3s. and a loaf and are lost sight of. It may be well to glance at what has been done in the direction of equalizing the rate. I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman the Member for Bethnal Green should have thought it necessary to 1378 sneer at Members on this side of the House for what he called their professed sympathy with the poor. If he means by that any sympathy in the direction of the proposals contained in the Bill, I do not think it is the Members of the Party to which I have the honour to belong who can show the worst record. The first attempt was made by Lord Cranbrook when Mr. Gathorne Hardy; and it was owing to him that the Common Poor Fund was instituted in 1867; a fund which has done so much in the direction desired by those who have framed this Bill, namely, in the direction of equalizing the rates. The good work was continued in 1870 by the present Chancellor of the Exchequer, and it was largely extended by the Act of last year. I will not go into the question as to which party does most for the poor as I do not think recriminations on such subjects are at all desirable. I believe that all of us to whatever party we belong are anxious to do all the good we can for our poorer fellow citizens. But however that may be, the fact remains, the Metropolitan Poor Fund was started in 1867, was extended in 1870, and largely developed by the Act of last year. Assuming that the Local Government Act had been in full operation during the year ended the 25th of March, 1888, which is the last year for which we have the figures, the effect of these changes would have been that the rate in the of poor rate expenditure chargeable to Chelsea would have been 1s. 6½d. instead of 2s. 2d.; in St. Pancras it would have been reduced from 2s. to a much lower sum; in Shore-ditch it is 1s. 7½d. instead of 2s. 4½d.; in Bethnal Green 1s. 9½d. instead of 3s. 5½d.; in Whitechapel 1s. 6½d. instead of 2s. 6½d.; in St. George's-in-the-East 1s. l½d. instead of 4s. 1½.; in Stepney 1s. 8d. instead of 2s. 7d.; in Mile End Old Town 1s. 9d. instead of 2s. 9d.; in Poplar 1s 1½d. instead of 2s. 6½d. Let the House consider what the result would be of adopting the proposals of the Bill, even supposing there was no increase in the rates. It is quite true that the profit to London under the Act of last year is not quite sufficient to meet the whole charge of 4d; it is sufficient to meet a charge of 3d.; but the proposal of 3d. was raised by the House 1379 to 4d.; and that left a deficiency of £100,000, or not more than 1d. in the £. I can understand how it is that the hon. Member opposite has been somewhat misled in this matter. Because, as I understand, the London County Council have appropriated the profits they have made from licenses in other ways, and that left the 4d. to be the means of an increase upon the poor rate. But that is purely a matter of machinery. The amount of profit which London obtained was only £100,000 by the payment of 4d. for the poor, to which they were entitled under the Local Government Act. Well, now, Sir, it is assumed, when we speak of an equalization of poors rates, that the parishes which would suffer by the equalization would be the rich parishes, while the poorer parishes would be gainers; but this is an entire fallacy, and I will endeavour to prove it by figures. Allowing for the 4d. under the Local Government Act, the amount of the average poor rate, extended over the whole of London, would be 1s. 9d.; but this would be more than several parishes now pay. If the rate were equalized, the following parishes would pay more than they will under the existing arrangements: The City 3d. more, St. George's-in-the-East 7½d. more. Now, St. George's-in-the-East is about the poorest parish in the whole of London, but in consequence of the excellent administration of the Board of Guardians for St. George's-in-the-East and Whitechapel the rates are kept very low. Paddington, some parts of which are extremely poor, would pay 2s. 2d. more under the equalization scheme, St. Pancras 1½d. more, Shore-ditch, ½d. more, Whitechapel, another of the poorest parishes of the Metropolis, but where the Poor Law administration is very good, would pay 2¼d. more, Stepney ¾d. more, St. Saviour's 2½d. more, and Camberwell 3d. more.
§ * MR. RITCHIE
§ MR. RITCHIE
I have made inquiry in anticipation of the right hon. Gentleman's question, and have provided myself with the means of informing him. The hon. Gentleman the Member for Poplar (Mr. S. Buxton) spoke as if this were a question of the poorer parishes at the East End, and said that was where we desired to encourage manufacturers, but that that part of London was heavily handicapped by the rates, which were so high as to militate against manufactories being started and carried on there, whereby the employment of the people was diminished. It so happens, however, that if the equalization scheme were adopted, St. George's-in-the East would have to pay 7½d. more than it will now.
§ * MR. S. BUXTON
Where does the right hon. Gentleman get those figures; because from a return recently presented to Parliament I find that the poor rate for St. George's-in-the-East, after making the proper deductions, was last year 1s. 10½d. I cannot see how that is 7½d. less than the average rate of 1s. 9d.
§ * MR. RITCHIE
I have taken the figures from a calculation made at the Local Government Board this morning, and have taken the figures for the year ending Lady Day, 1888, and have made allowance for the relief allowed under the Local Government Act.
§ * MR. S. BUXTON
I am sorry again to interrupt; but I want to be clear on this point. I gather from the Return I hold in my hand—a Circular relating to the poor rate at St. George's-in-the-East—that the rate there last year was 1s. 10½d., which is after the adjustment of the right hon. Gentleman, and I understand the average rate to be 1s. 9d.; therefore I cannot see how St. George's-in-the-East would pay 7d. more than at present.
§ * MR. RITCHIE
The rate for St. George's-in-the-East, supposing the Local Government Act had been in full operation, in 1888 would have been 1s. 1½d., and the difference be- 1381 tween 1s. 1½d. and 1s. 9d. is 7½d. I can assure the hon. Gentleman my figures are correct. The hon. Gentleman the Member for Poplar says the rate was 1s. 10½d.
§ * MR. RITCHIE
But that takes no account of the relief under the Local Government Act for indoor poor. The rate for St. George's-in-the-East was 1s. 10½d., and the relief given under the Local Government Act would have brought it down to 1s. 1½d., the result being, as far as it concerns the eastern districts, which it is said would so greatly benefit by the equalization scheme, that St. George's-in-the-East would pay 7½d. more than it will now; Shoreditch would pay 1½d. more, Whitechapel 2¼d. more, Stepney ¾d. more, Bethnal Green ¾d. less, Mile End ¼d. less, and Poplar 2½d. less. That is the nett result in the East of London, and, on the average, it will be found that, instead of the East End paying less under this Bill, it would have to pay more. The right hon. Gentleman (Mr. H. H. Fowler) has asked me whether Fulham would pay less. Fulham would pay less; Marylebone would pay ½d. less, Hackney 2½d. less, and Holborn 5¼d. less. This is a very large deduction, no doubt, but I am afraid the administration of the Board of Guardians there has not been everything that could be desired, the evidence of which is that their rate is so high. Bethnal Green would pay ¼d. less, Mile End ¼d. less, St. Olave's—a poor parish ¼d. less, and Wandsworth and Clapiham 1¾ less. Thirteen Unions would pay less; five would have to pay 1d., four over ld., one under 2½d., one 3½d., one 5¼d. less, and Woolwich 6¼d. less. But as far as Woolwich is concerned, this calculation is upset by the fact that in Woolwich there is a large amount of Government property that is not brought under assessment. I find that the amount of that property is no less than £40,000, out of a ratable value of £76,000, and Woolwich has a grant 1382 from the Government in respect to that property, but it is not brought into account in regard to the poor rate. The statement that Woolwich would pay 6¼d. less is not accurate, and I think Woolwich would be a loser rather than a gainer by the Bill.
§ * MR. J. STUART
Will the right hon. Gentleman tell us what were the figures for St George's-in-the-East after the adjustment by the Local Government Board?
§ * MR. RITCHIE
I have given them. For St. George's-in-the-East the rate per pound up to Lady Day, 1888, was 2s. 1d., and the poor rate that would have been levied if the provisions of the Local Government Act had come into operation, would have been 1s. ld.
§ * MR. RITCHIE
I am sorry to trouble the House with all these figures; but I think they are very germane, and anticipate very largely what I know is a prevalent opinion, that on the whole cost of the administration of the Poor Law over the entire Metropolis, the poorer districts would gain largely by the equalization, at the expense of the richer districts. I have shown that, with one or two exceptions, this is a fallacy, and that no districts in London would suffer more under this Bill than many of the poorer one—that is, always estimating that the amount spent in poor relief would remain as it was in 1888. Whether it is likely to rise or fall, when we increase the area of contribution without increasing the area of control by the Board of Guardians, I will leave the House to judge. There is another question dealt with by the Bill, which I think few of us who have seen the details of the measure would wish to have solved in the way proposed. I allude to the suggested transfer of the Metropolitan Asylums Board. I am not one of those who say that at no period whatever should the powers and control now exercised by the Metropolitan Asylums Board be transferred to the London County Council; but I do say that it would 1383 be a most dangerous and unwise thing to transfer those powers to a body which has only been three months in existence. Without saying one word against my own offspring, I think that all of us would desire to see the London County Council a little older and a little more experienced before we put upon its shoulders such delicate work as is now being done by the Metropolitan Asylums Board. The hon. Gentleman the Member for Bethnal Green (Mr. Pickersgill) bits made some remarks about the management of the Metropolitan Asylums Board, with which I cannot at all agree. He said it was a body which not only did not have the confidence of the public, but which did not deserve that confidence. I think there are very few people who have inquired into the enormous amount of excellent and valuable work done by the Metropolitan Asylums Board,who would endorse that remark, and as far as I am concerned I must record my protest against language of that kind being applied to a body as to whom no attempt has been made to show that they have not faithfully discharged the duties which have been cast upon them. The hon. Gentleman gave one illustration of the administration of the Metropolitan Asylums Board. The great charge he made was with reference to a particular point—namely, that the Local Government Board had approved of a sum being spent on Dr. McKellar, without a shadow of justification, on his retirement. Now, Sir, I protest against that, and I ask what was it that the Metropolitan Asylums Board did with reference to this matter? Here was a gentleman who had been for 16 or 17 years faithfully discharging his duty as medical officer. The Metropolitan Asylums Board had come to the conclusion that one of their hospitals, not in the interest of the ratepayers, be closed, and they desired Dr. McKellar to resign, not because he had not performed his duties in a most exemplary manner, but because they wanted to close the hospital, and they gave him a year's pay. I think that bears favourable comparison with many of the amounts that are paid in public departments when such an operation is to be performed; and I am certain of this, that there are no private employers who would have thought of getting rid 1384 of an employé of that kind after so many years faithful service, without paying him as much, and in many cases more The Local Government Board consented to the Metropolitan Asylums Board paying Dr. McKellar. I am sorry to have to remind the House of a matter of detail, but it was the only illustration which the hon. Gentleman who moved this Bill gave of the incapacity or corruption of the Metropolitan Asylums Board. Sir, I shall certainly vote for the Amendment of my hon. Friend the Member for Peckham for the reasons that I have given. I do not believe it possible to create a machinery which would secure proper and due administration if the cost of outdoor relief was to allow the Scotch Fishery Boards Vote to be put upon the whole of London as well as the cost of indoor relief. I do not believe it would be advantageous, but the reverse, to the very parishes which those hon. Gentlemen desire to assist. I believe it would be bad for the ratepayers and bad for the poor, and bad for the administration, which we ought to maintain at the very highest point of efficiency.
§ * MR. STUART
I wish to reply very shortly to one or two of the points urged by the right hon. Gentleman. Now, what is the extent of outdoor relief in London? It amounts to under £200,000 a year, which is less than one-tenth part of the whole expenditure, and, therefore, the equalization of poor rate which is embodied in this Bill, extends to subjects far beyond that amount, and involves many other items than outdoor relief, and which is only one of a considerable number of items. In the second place, hon. Members on the other side of the House have argued so frequently, as if the indoor paupers constituted the only point in respect of which relief was given, that I think I ought to state what the figures are. The sum given from the Common Poor Fund last year was £920,000. Of that £250,000 was composed of the 5d. allowed for indoor paupers; £150,000 for pauper children, and £200,000 for salaries and rations of officers, and £200,000 for maintenance of lunatics. With respect to the salaries and rations of officers, it was urged on the other side by one or two Members that the freedom of Boards 1385 of Guardians in dealing with their officers, would be taken away by this Bill, whereas at present in respect of their officers, they are under the control completely of the Local Government Board. Now, the President of the Local Government Board has advanced a very important argument—namely, that the Bill would fail in its purpose—not the equalization of the poor rate, which is its purpose—but fail in what might be conceived to be a sub-purpose—the relief of the poorer districts of London. Now, the right hon. Gentleman has taken the case of St. George's-in-the-East, and here he points out there will be a very great increase, or will be, when the Local Government Act operates, in the poor rate. The case of St. George's-in-the-East is almost wholly exceptional.
§ * MR. STUART
I am going to deal with that matter. Any relief given by that 4d. from indoor paupers that relief is proportionate to the indoor pauperism practically. Now it is not the case that the poorest parishes are at all invariably those parishes in London where there is the greatest relative proportion of indoor pauperism. It does not go by the poorness or the richness of the parish. The consequence of that is that there have been inequalities created by the Local Government Act in addition to the inequalities already existing. That being so, I think there is every reason to take up the position that we take up, I say that the equalization of the poor rates over London being in itself a desirable thing, and that being the essence of this Bill, a Select Committee ought to be appointed in order to investigate how it can be done, and the grounds upon which it can be done. I must say that the whole sum of this discussion comes to this, that the division on this Bill can scarcely be regarded as anything less than a division simply on the question, whether the poor rate in London is to be equalized or not. The position we take up is this, that London is to be treated as a whole, that the poor and rich of London are to be put into the same box, as far as the poor 1386 rate and many other things are concerned—and this Bill deals with them. so far as the poor rate is concerned.
§ SIR ROPER LETHBRIDGE (North Kensington)
Mr. Speaker, I will only intervene between the House and a Division for a very few minutes. I was very much surprised during the remarks, of my hon. and learned Friend, the Member for Holborn to hear considerable cries of divide from hon. Members opposite who support this Bill. Now surely, Sir, my hon. and learned Friend, of all Members of this House perhaps, has about the best right or the best claim to address this House on such a subject as this, for he is one of the most recent of Metropolitan Members who, have received their mandates direct from their constituencies. And it does seem to me, Sir, that this attempt to stop the mouths of the Metropolitan Members on such a question as this, is a part of the same tactics that have been followed by the promoters of this Bill in bringing it on for Second Reading within 48 hours of its being in the hands of hon. Members. Sir, I for my part shall most strongly support the Amendment of my hon. Friend the Member for Peckham. I feel quite certain, having followed very carefully the discussions in this House on the Local Government Bill last year, that when we passed that Bill, when we conferred upon London a Central Authority, we had no idea that we should be also imposing upon the various and varied districts in London anything like a hide-bound uniformity in matters of Poor Law administration. Why, Sir, between many of the districts of London there is no more similarity in their requirements or in the character of their Poor Law administration than there is between Macedonia and Monmouth. Both begin with M, as Battersea and Bethnal Green begin with B, but I venture to say in many points the similarity goes no further. The ratepayers of Kensington, for whom I have the honour to speak in this House, are already burdened enough with their poor rates. They are willing to pay for their own expenditure—that is, for the expenditure sanctioned by their own Guardians, whom they have elected themselves; but the ratepayers of Kensington do not 1387 see—and I think they will not see—that if the constituents, say, if the hon. Member for Bethnal Green choose to be lavish in their expenditure on out-door relief, that they should be called upon to make up the difference. The right hon. Gentleman the President of the Local Government Board has shown amply and beyond all doubt that this is not a question between the richer and the poorer districts of London. It is the poorer districts which will mainly suffer if this Bill become law. In the parish of Kensington the feeling is not that the richer wish to separate from the poorer districts, but that the poorer districts wish to separate from the richer. I represent not one of the richer, but one of the poorer districts, where we are tied up on matter of Poor Law administration to South Kensington, and we have often petitioned to be separated from that division. I say it is not a question between the richer districts and the poorer, and I certainly hope that the House will not affirm the Second Reading of this Bill.
§ Mr. Pickersgill rose
in his place, and claimed to move, "That the Question be now put," but Mr. Speaker stated that that Motion was unnecessary, as no Member had risen to continue the debate.
The House divided:—Ayes 181; Noes, 217. (Div. List, No. 131.)
Main Question, as amended, put, and agreed to.
Second Reading put off for six months.